The month of September has brought two important decisions, both (in different ways) helping to affirm democracy in Peru.
The first of these took place on 16th September in three communities as far away as is humanly possible to go from the centre of power in Peru: Ayabaca, Carmen de la Frontera and Pacaipampa (Piura). These are the three municipalities that are most directly affected by the development of the Rio Blanco mine by Monterrico Metals, now a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, Zijin.
The local referendum (or consulta) resulted in around 90% of those who participated voting against the development of Rio Blanco. However, it is not the result that matters most, rather the fact that the people concerned had the opportunity to make their views known in a vote on an issue of major importance to them. One of the central arguments in the lengthy tussle over Rio Blanco is that Monterrico did not properly consult with local communities before beginning prospecting on their land.
For its part, the government of Alan García which now faces an awkward decision over whether to heed the referendum result since it is not binding. The government contributed little to this democratic exercise; it simply argued that the referendum was illegal and that the organisers were liable to punishment. By so doing, it signalled its support for the Rio Blanco project, irrespective of the views of local people. If it now decides to give the company the green light, it will further exacerbate an already fraught situation.
The second decision, taken a few days later in a very different context, was that of the Chilean Supreme Court to uphold Peru’s request for the disgraced former president, Alberto Fujimori to be extradited to Peru. The Court rejected the arguments of Fujimori’s lawyers that he had no case to answer with respect to the corruption and human rights charges lodged against him. Fujimori is now back in Peru, under arrest and awaiting legal proceedings to begin.
As an organisation which has campaigned for nearly 25 years for human and political rights in Peru, the PSG welcomes this decision. The case will be a challenge for Peru’s judicial system – itself widely viewed as venal and corrupt – but we are hopeful that the international attention the case will attract will oblige the judicial authorities to preside over a trial that is transparent and fair.
But, once again, there may be a sting in the tail for the García administration. A lengthy trial will re-focus attention on the murkier side of Peruvian public life over the last quarter of a century. It will highlight accusations and counter-accusations not only about what happened under Fujimori but also under his immediate predecessor, Alan García. García’s own record on corruption and human rights violations during his first government was far from exemplary.